September 21: “The Mayor” by Matt Rowan

What’s up, Story366? Coming at you on this fine Wednesday evening. I’ve been teaching and in meetings all day today, so I really don’t know what’s going on in the world, except of course, maybe the biggest news story of the century so far: Brad and Angelina are divorcing. I usually don’t pay any heed to this kind of thing (except, actually, always), only his Bradness is from here in Springfield, local royalty by definition, so this story has direct impact on me and everyone I know and love (except, actually, not at all). It’s been fun to hear about the arrival of the royal couple in town, someone spotting a private plane land at the airport, a limo waiting to take the family to stately Pitt Manor, some baggage handler or mobile staircase pusher cashing in with the local news station. When the couple’s kids were younger, before I lived here, there were sightings at Chuck E. Cheese, which, admittedly, would have been pretty weird/cool/surreal, even for the staunchest declarers of “I don’t care,” Angelina playing Whack-a-Mole while Brad holds armloads of tickets. They are as suspect as all of us of those animatronic animals on stage, singing and making jokes, their eyes haunting our dreams and theirs. Alas, no more … at least until he marries another gorgeous starlet and has kids some with her.

Tonight I’m writing about one of the really good people in this whole literary world, the kind and abominable Matt Rowan. Matt and I both identify as Chicago-types, so we have a history of running into each other at events, hanging out, pouring back more than our share. He’s a great literary citizen as well, working at reading series and editing journals, currently serving as Fiction Editor for Another Chicago Magazine. And of course, since we’re talking about him here, h’s a writer with a short story collection, Why God Why, from Love Symbol Press. The book is basically a collection of shorts, the pieces running from two to six pages, so I got to read quite a few before I had to get writing here. Like with all collections of shorts covered on Story366, it’s really hard to pick just one piece—often, my write-up is longer than the story I’m writing about—plus I genuinely like all the stories in Why God Why. Because I have to pick one—Story366 is a strict master—I’m going with “The Mayor,” the tenth or so story in the collection.

“The Mayor” is about a small-town mayor who steals sections of pavement from the town in which he’s mayor. He has guys lift the sections of pavement from the city streets and stack them in his kitchen, then his living room. The people asked him to fix the streets, but instead of doing that, he stole the roads, claiming them for himself. No one knows why, but they do know he’s doing it, not like he could keep something like that a secret.

So it seems like this story is a surreal, if not magically real metaphor for how politicians work, how our elected officials tend to be crooked, taking from us instead of providing. I mean, that’s pretty obvious, too obvious to call it a metaphor. That’s an interesting story right there, regardless of what you call it. But Rowan’s a better writer than that, doing more with the concept than a simple A = B metaphor. The whole town incensed, the mayor’s car starts to give him shit about stealing the sections of the road. What seemed a bit surreal already—the pieces of pavement were being grabbed and moved around like sections of drywall, and pavement doesn’t work like that—but the fact that the mayor’s car starts talking to him, as a guilty conscience, changes the story, making it a different type of story, an absurdity, or maybe a satire of absurdity.

Again, since this is a short, I think that’s what you need to know about “The Mayor” to understand what the story is like, what all the stories in Matt Rowan’s Why God Why are like. Rowan emulates some of my favorite short-short writers, including Amelia Gray, Lyndsay Hunter (who blurbs Rowan here), Stephen Dixon, and Donald Barthelme. At the same time, he delivers his own, unique perspective, a voice that’s playful, terse, deep, and poignant. I like Rowan’s work as much as I like him (an avid Story366 fan, to note), and I like him a whole lot.

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